Report: Cavaliers have “legitimate fear” Kevin Love leaves as free agent. Should they really?

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Kevin Love has denied he is leaving. Repeatedly.

Yet whether driven by the hopes of and dreams of other franchises and front offices, or whether Kevin Love’s agent and people are sending out hints, the “Love is going to leave the Cavaliers this summer” rumors will not die.

The latest one comes once again from Adrain Wojnarowski, speaking on the Dan Patrick Show.

“I think all year long he has looked longingly at free agency and the possibility of what else is out there. What the Cavaliers had really hoped for is that if he had played in the postseason, and had success, and had some big moments, and all of a sudden people start to look at Kevin Love differently — “he had a great Game 6 against the Bulls and got us to the conference finals” — and people started to see him as a winning player and a big moment guy, he hasn’t had those opportunities in the past, maybe he’d feel differently about that role he had there. But none of that is going to happen now, he’s out, and he won’t experience any of that. And the only big decision he’s going to be making is based on a regular season where he hasn’t embraced loved that role like Chris Bosh….

“He’s going to look at free agency, I think he’s going to look at other teams. He can always opt in and go into free agency next summer where there’s even a bigger pool of money. But there’s a legitimate fear within the Cavs that he will just walk.”

Here are my thoughts:

• I think Love will stay, at least for one more season. The logic goes that if Love leaves it’s because he doesn’t like the sacrifices he had to make to his game, and he wants to be in the spotlight. He wants to be the focal point of a franchise not the third option. The rumor has been if he leaves he winds up a Laker. If Love leaves the contender Cavs for the Lakers — a team that would be lucky to make the playoffs even with him in the West — the national narrative will be about Love not caring about winning, about him being selfish, and about how he wasn’t tough enough to stay with a contender. Fair or not, that’s how it will be spun everywhere outside Los Angeles. If Love gives it a couple seasons and then leaves, it’s much easier for him to say “I tried but this just wasn’t a fit.”

• Love may stay by opting in for the final year of his deal (he probably could survive on $16.7 million). Or if he opts out he signs a deal where he has a player option in one or two more years. He will reassess then. Love may well stay a Cavalier beyond that time, but he is going to get paid max money under the new television deal cap, and he’d be a fool not to try and get that extra cash.

• Wojnarowski is as connected as any NBA reporter out there, and if he says something, you have to give it some credence. That said, nobody leaks anything this time of year (to Wojnarowski or anyone else) without a motive. And it’s not hard to imagine motives here that may not always be tied to what Love is thinking.

• Cavaliers management (and fans) should be fearful he leaves — it would be very difficult to replace him of anyone near the same quality. Yes, I know LaMarcus Aldridge’s name comes up, but signing an outright free agent to a max deal while keeping LeBron paid (he can opt out), keeping J.R. Smith, keeping Timofey Mozgov, and re-signing restricted free agent Tristan Thompson (and the list of people to pay is longer) is very financially tricky. Unless you can sell Love on a sign-and-trade to Portland (and good luck with that).

• Late in the season and into the playoffs, Love started to find more of a comfort zone with the Cavaliers. He and LeBron are never going to be tight like LeBron and Wade were, but LeBron did stick up for him. He may not be as eager to bolt as people in other markets want to believe.

• Cavaliers fans gave him a standing ovation in Game 2 when he was shown on the big screen during a timeout. That’s from the Joni Mitchel “You don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone” file.

This is going to be a very interesting summer in Cleveland no matter what Love decides.

Gordon Hayward does not plan to leave bubble for birth of son

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When Boston first went to the NBA restart bubble in Orlando, Gordon Hayward was upfront: He was leaving the bubble for the birth of his fourth child.

Hayward ended up leaving the bubble for another reason — he severely sprained his ankle and was out for more than a month. During his rehab, Hayward left the bubble and spent time at home, returning a couple of weeks ago. Saturday he played his first game back for Boston, helping it to a win against the Heat.

Hayward’s wife, Robyn, has yet to have their son, but now Hayward does not plan to leave the bubble for the event, something first reported by Rachel Nichols of ESPN during Saturday’s game.

Hayward confirmed this after the game. So did Robyn in a social media post, adding the reports she was in labor already were not true.

I don’t envy the Hayward family having to make this choice. As a parent, I can’t imagine having missed the births of any of my children, but, like everything else in 2020, this is far from a typical decision at a typical time. The Haywards are making the best of it they can. They deserve support no matter what they choose.

LeBron James, Dion Waiters’ son engage in a little trash talk

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“Yeah, right.”

That was Dion Waiters Jr.’s response to pretty much everything LeBron James during the Lakers’ practice on Saturday before Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.

LeBron was getting up some corner threes and told Waiters Jr. he would make 100 straight.

“Yeah, right.”

When LeBron missed one, “I missed that on purpose.” 

“Yeah, right.”

“I missed that on purpose, so you’d think I’m human,” LeBron joked.

Got to love Dion Waiters Jr. — he’s got some of his dad’s spunk.

Families have been allowed in the bubble for teams for a couple of weeks, although LeBron’s sons are not there, with LeBron saying it’s not a great place for kids (he’s right, for anyone over about 7 or 8, there would be little to do).

Aggressive, attacking Boston drives right into heart of Miami defense, wins Game 3

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On Boston’s first possession of the game, Marcus Smart drove right to the rim and got an and-1 on a reverse layup.

Next possession, Jaylen Brown got a bucket cutting for a layup, with the assist from Smart. Next possession, Brown drove the lane and banked in a floater. The next Boston bucket was a Jayson Tatum driving layup.

The first nine Boston points came with them attacking the heart of the Miami defense (going at Duncan Robinson in particular), and that continued all game with the Celtics getting 60 points in the paint.

“Boston came out with great force. You have to give them credit for that,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said after the game.

Throw in 31 quality minutes from Gordon Hayward in his return from a sprained ankle — providing more quality wing play and good decision making — and Boston raced out to a comfortable lead then hung on at the end for a 117-106 win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Heat lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 not until Wednesday night (a little delay to allow the West to catch up).

After a sloppy Game 2 loss where the Celtics became passive in the face of Miami’s zone defense in the second half, followed by a postgame meltdown and meeting of the minds, the guys at the heart of the Celtics young core stepped up their game on Saturday night.

Particularly Brown, who had 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting and was getting to the rim all game. He also was playing smothering defense.

Smart — an All-Defensive Team player — had his best game of the series, blanketing Goran Dragic, who had been the Heat’s best scorer and shot creator through two games. Without Dragic breaking down the Celtics’ defense and getting points in the paint, Miami has to live by the three and the Celtics defenders did a better job staying home.

“Marcus’ ball pressure on Dragic was important,” Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens said postgame. “It’s something we need to continue to look at. Marcus did a great job on a guy who is playing better than I’ve ever seen him.”

Boston also got more minutes from Gordon Hayward than expected, minutes Stevens called a “stabilizing force” for the team.

“I’m extremely tired right now. My ankle is pretty sore,” Hayward said postgame, adding with the extra days off he should be good to go for Game 4.

Hayward’s presence also allowed Boston to play small ball without Daniel Theis or any true center on the floor, the Celtics switched everything defensively, and Miami didn’t take advantage. Look for Eric Spoelstra to turn to more Bam Adebayo against that small lineup next game.

“They got us on our heels. They were out there hooping and having fun. I guess that was the difference in the game,” Bam Adebayo said postgame.

Miami didn’t shoot the ball well Saturday night, hitting just 27.3% from three. Jae Crowder, who had been hot, was 2-of-8 from deep, while Tyler Herro was 4-of-12. Adebayo had 27 points and 16 boards to lead the Heat.

Boston had four players with more than 20 points: Brown (26), Tatum (25), Kemba Walker (21), and Smart (20).

Boston will need another game like that — and they will need to close better, Miami made it interesting late — to even the series on Wednesday.

Miami said postgame they saw what happened in this game as a challenge to them. Game 4 is going to be intense.

Ja Morant points out one person who didn’t vote him Rookie of the Year

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Ja Morant was not the unanimous Rookie of the Year — 99 out of 100 media members voted for him, one voted for Zion Williamson.

When the media votes became public Saturday, Morant got to see who the one voter who voted for someone else was: Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Crowley stood up for his vote, and everything was good between them (at least on social media).

While the votes come from media members, the NBA goes out of its way to put together voters who see things differently, something ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne talked about is an excellent thread on Twitter, although she was speaking about the case for LeBron James over Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP.

To be clear, I was one of the Morant voters, and I will readily admit that Zion is the better player (at least right now). I consider the impact on winning heavily when voting, which led me to Morant because he played 59 games before the bubble and had his team in a playoff position, while Zion played only 19 and did not (only games before the NBA restart in Orlando were to be considered, per NBA rules). I also expect and respect the fact that not everyone will see it that way, or even define what matters most in winning the award the same way. Diversity of thought and views is a good thing, it leads to better outcomes. Crowley should vote what he sees and believes, and that should be respected.

Unanimous or not, Morant will go down as the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year. The voting will be a footnote at most.